Coast Guard issues advisory for Berwick Bay

By ZACHARY FITZGERALD zfitzgerald@daily-review.com

The U.S. Coast Guard issued a vessel traffic advisory Tuesday due to the unusually high water in Berwick Bay for this time of year, though the effect to vessel traffic is expected to be minimal, U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Jay Michalczak, vessel traffic service director for Morgan City, said.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the Atchafalaya River level was around 3.5 feet and U.S. Coast Guard officials expected the level to drop 3.2 feet today and stay at that level for several days, Michalczak said.
Also as of Tuesday, restrictions only applied to southbound vessel traffic in Berwick Bay or “triplebridge,” referring to the U.S. 90, La. 182, and railroad bridges, he said. “We work very closely with NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the Army Corps (of Engineers). … We could see this coming,” Michalczak said.
The higher than normal water levels for this time of year are due to an early snowfall up north followed by a thaw, which was immediately followed by heavy rain about two to three weeks ago, Michalczak said. “It takes a while for that water to get here,” he said.
Waters all the way from the Great Lakes and 35 states drain through the Mississippi River, which the Atchafalaya River breaks off of, he said.
The water level usually does not start rising until February, he said.
“We’ve never issued one (an advisory) this early so this is kind of out of the norm, this spike in water heights and speed of current. I’m still hoping for next week (to lift the restrictions), and that’s what it’s forecasted to,” Michalczak said. “Even though the water is expected to slowly decrease, that current will still be high,” he said. The current is expected to eventually slowly decrease, he said.
However, the water height is normally not a big concern on the Atchafalaya River in Morgan City. The main concern is the heavy current associated with that height. The Coast Guard calculates the tide into the water level, Michalczak said.
The reason for the restrictions and the Coast Guard’s vessel traffic system is to protect the bridges, he said. “They were the most struck bridges in America for many years until they put the VTS here,” Michalczak said. VTS is vessel traffic service that issues advisories.
Morgan City Harbor and Terminal District Executive Director Raymond “Mac” Wade said though the water is high for this time of year, it should not have much of an effect on vessel traffic. “It’s nothing to be alarmed about, but, yes, the river is up a little bit. It’s not normal for this time of year,” Wade said.

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